Another day, and another day of silence about events in Catalonia from BBC Scotland, the local accounting unit of the UK state broadcaster. You’d almost imagine that no one in Scotland could possibly relate to or be interested in the goings on in a modern European nation which is seeking independence, statehood, and membership of the EU in its own right. Nothing like that has ever happened in Scotland. Oh no. We can have wall to wall fitba, but no news from Catalonia that might be relevant to Scotland’s very own home grown independence campaign.
Catalonia is due to hold an independence referendum on the first of October. It’s only a couple of weeks away, but there has been almost zero interest in the Catalan independence movement from a British nationalist media in Scotland which is desperately trying to forget that there’s an independence movement in Scotland too. Or more precisely, which is desperately hoping that people in Scotland forget that there’s an independence movement in Scotland too. The British nationalist establishment is all to aware of it, terrified of it, and wishing it would go away. For all the false confidence, the braggadocio, the claims that we’ve heard a hundred times before that Scotland has passed peak-nat, the British nationalists know that the next time there’s an independence referendum in Scotland, they’re going to lose it. That’s why they’re so desperate to ensure that one never takes place, and why they’re not keen on reminding Scotland that other stateless nations in Europe are on their own journey to self-determination.
The Spanish version of British nationalists are even more desperate than their red white and blue counterparts to prevent a referendum taking place. The Spanish state paramilitary police, the Guardia Civil – an organisation directly under the control of the Spanish equivalent of the Home Office – have recently raided printers’ offices and newspaper print works in Catalonia seeking to seize freshly printed ballot papers. Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and other members of the Catalan government and pro-independence parties are facing criminal charges for daring to insist that the people of Catalonia have the right to a say on their own future.
On Friday, Madrid unilaterally changed the rules governing the spending of the Catalan government to make it illegal to use Catalan government money to hold the vote and also ordered all police forces, including the Catalan police the Mossos d’Esquadra to take action to prevent the referendum. If the Catalan police were to be seen to be acting at the behest of Madrid, the result could be inflammatory and lead to civil unrest. On the same day, the Spanish Supreme Court ordered Catalan newspapers not to publish campaign notices for the October 1st referendum. The offices of the Spanish State Prosecutor have called in over 700 pro-independence mayors for questioning amidst warnings that assisting with the preparation of the vote could lead to criminal charges of civil disobedience, misuse of public funds, and abuse of public office.
The Guardia Civil isn’t just any old police force. It’s a paramilitary organisation which was the main organ of state repression during the Franco dictatorship. Memories of dictatorship remain strong in Spain, well within living memory. During the height of Franco’s cruel rule, the public use of the Catalan language was banned, along with Basque and Galician. Catalan and Basque speakers were not even allowed to have their own names on their official ID papers. If you were a Catalan speaker called Pau, your government ID card would identify you as Pablo. Only the Spanish versions of personal names were permitted. In rural communities, the Guardia Civil would knock on your door on a Monday to ask why you hadn’t been to Mass on the Sunday. People in traditionally Catalan or Basque speaking districts were hauled off into years of detention for the “crime” of not speaking Spanish very well.
After the end of the dictatorship in Spain, there was no equivalent of the denazification process in Germany which followed the fall of Hitler’s regime. Spain’s old fascists, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands and the torture and illegal detention of many thousands more, simply went on with life as though nothing had happened. After the death of Franco in 1975, the price that Spain paid for avoiding another civil war and for the restoration of democracy was silence on the crimes of the Francoists.
Another price that was paid was the inclusion of a Francoist slogan España una e indivisible ‘Spain, one and indivisible’, in the new democratic constitution. Including this slogan in the new constitution was one of the prices exacted by Franco’s generals for returning to the barracks and allowing freedom of political expression. The adoption of this clause led to a widespread boycott in the Basque Country of the referendum in 1981 to adopt the new constitution. The prospect of an independent Basque Country and Catalonia had been one of the sparks that set off the Civil War of 1936 to ’39, and the generals and their allies were determined that the newly democratic Spain was not going to extend full democratic rights to those within the Spanish state who didn’t feel Spanish at all.
The anti-democratic forces of the Spanish right, the fascists, the falangists, and the Francoists, didn’t vanish when Spain returned to democracy. They re-organised. They adopted the veneer of democracy. Today their main political vehicle is the Partido Popular, the party of Mariano Rajoy which is doing its utmost to prevent Catalonia from holding its referendum, citing the clause in the Constitution that was put there by Franco’s old army pals. The Madrid government which is seeking to block the referendum in Catalonia is the heir to Franco.
Catalonia deserves solidarity from Scotland, and not just from those of us who support Scottish independence. All of us in Scotland, on both sides of our constitutional debate, accept and recognise that the people of Scotland have the democratic right to decide their own future, that it’s for Scotland, and Scotland alone, to decide whether it remains a part of the United Kingdom or it becomes an independent state. It’s a question of democracy. In Spain, we’re now seeing a supposedly democratic European country employ force and threats of force in order to prevent its citizens from exercising what ought to be a basic democratic right, the right to self-determination. The government in Madrid is so afraid of the voice of the people that it seeks to gag them. When you gag the people, democracy is dead.
Sadly it’s not just the British nationalist media in Scotland which has been silent on Catalonia. The Scottish Government hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in a defence of the right of Catalonia to self-determination. Holyrood, and the Scottish Government, should speak out in support of the right of Catalonia to hold its referendum, and for the right of the people of Catalonia to decide their own future. If Scotland can’t support other nations which seek to determine their own future, we will not be able to expect support from other nations when we seek to determine ours.
Update: Almost as I hit the publish button for this blog article, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs Fiona Hyslop released a statement from the Scottish Government supporting the right of Catalonia to self-determination. You can read the statement here. https://news.gov.scot/news/statement-on-catalonia
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